This is part of a series of posts on the invocations of the Jesus Psalter. There is a menu of these posts at the bottom. The invocations will be considered thematically.
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu,
grant me grace to remember my death
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu,
send me here my purgatory
BE CAREFUL what you pray for, the old saying/joke goes, for you may get it. I’m calling these two invocations the mystery of reality because we often live in denial of both of them. The reality is we will die and most of us will do some time in purgatory. But we also die daily, and purgatory can be here instead of later, so I think it’s helpful to understand both death and purgatory.
“Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended…”
When a Christian contemplates death it is with a three-fold realization: on the one hand, we do so in the hope for to fall asleep here is to wake with Christ. On the other hand we do so in fear and awe or we will come face-to-face with the judge who knows everything and judges justly. Also, “Media vita in morte sumus quem quaerimus adjutorem nisi te, Domine, qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris?” This Antiphon, from Advent in medaeival usage, reminds us In the midst of life we are in death of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Even in our daily life we are surrounded by death. Death is the part of this world that was not intended (as far as we can understand). It is the result of sin. We allowed death into the world and, like kudzu in the south, it’s everywhere now. We don’t see it: we think it’s part of the natural order. It’s so common, but it’s literally the only thing that is not natural. It’s so common that sometimes when we indulge in things and feel like “really alive” we’re actually only dealing in death and more death.
All such cases are sin: disordered use of God’s creation. We are offended by that idea of “disorder” but all sin is disorder. All sin is a misuse of God’s creation. We are in the midst of death. This is the reality we refuse to see. This is the reality we pray to have grace to remember.
With death comes judgement, the final moment. This happens outside of time in God’s eternity and therefore it is a mystery. For us on Earth and inside time it is a sadness to see Soul separated from Body as was never intended. But in eternity where things do not change I’m not sure it’s quite like that. Seems to me there cannot be two moments of time in eternity – one of death and one of judgement. Do we needlessly complicate things when we insist on seeing them both? In the sense that the final judgment place out in eternity there is some wibbly wobbly timey wimey way where I must even now be standing before the judgement seat watching my life play out. Holy Angels and Saints praying for mercy and all the prayers, including mine, ascending and affecting my life now. This present moment is in some way the shockwave of the Eschaton – flowing forward to that final climax.
In being mindful of Death, we pray to be mindful of judgement. It’s also around us, each moment of death is also a moment of judgement. As the moment passes it is judged. It can never be redone and it can never be undone. We feel this passing as pain and, markedly, we don’t like pain. We run from pain. We dodge it at every turn. While pain (as it I hit my thumb with a hammer and it hurts) is not something to be sought, it is also a part of life. In our process of avoiding pain, we often just run to things that make us feel good: and so often, that’s a disordered misuse of God’s creation. A sin. We become addicted to sin – it makes us feel good. We even craft “identities” around sin. And so, we need purgatory to pull us away. We need to pain to purge us.
David the King asks God to “purge me with hyssop” in Psalm 51. Hyssop is a laxative. David’s asking to be cleansed inside and out. Our sins need that level of cleansing – they have that sort of hold on our lives: constipation can be a spiritual reality as it is a physical one. Purgatory which we pray for here, is this spiritual laxative.
We are asking God to purge us: to remove our blockages or hangups around sin. But more: the same Psalm speaks of healing bones which God has broken. If you’ve studied anything around the human body you know that sometimes you have to break bones again to allow them to heal. Yes, this can happen if the bones have healed poorly, but it’s a process used in other parts of medicine like orthotics. If a child’s feet have matured in the wrong shapes, they may be broken so as to give them a chance to heal in the correct way. Or in physical therapy: if muscles have formed in the wrong way, it is a painful process to reform them by constantly re-training them to move correctly. Any discomfort, any pain in a doctor’s office could be cause for a lawsuit. Even Therapists are mindful of causing emotional discomfort. This is how far we are from reality: I had a dentist apologize repeatedly for cleaning my teeth. Being mindful of death and accepting pain – even asking for both – puts us face to face with a reality that most people in the world today not only avoid, but take active steps to deny.
When we ask for purgatory here, we are asking God to take the time we have devoted to sin, and turn it into a time of healing. It’s a brave step: one that asks God to take over now and begin a process that in our theology requires fire. But that fire is God. It is his love purging us. And, while we know this in eternity, asking for it now means also asking for the faith to accept it as part of the reality of a Christian. We are asking for pain: it may be spiritual or physical, it could be mental or emotional. It could be all of the above. But it will be real.
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi, Jesu.